More commonly known for its beautiful selection of sandy beaches, lush rainforests, exotic wildlife and serene views of the ocean, Hawaii has quite a fair amount to be proud of. But, as beautiful as the sights and scenes are, you might not realize the best part of Hawaii: the lifestyle. Thanks to centuries of local tradition and a whole host of ingredients native to the islands, Hawaii is home to both a delightful way of life and some of the most delectable dishes you might ever encounter. Read about the relaxed culture and tasty Hawaiian cuisine to learn more.
Thanks to the native culture that has existed for centuries in Hawaii, life is kind here, and the Aloha (love or spirit of giving) mindset manifests itself in every facet. The most easily identifiable would be Aloha wear; a clothing style known far and wide for floral prints, geometric designs and neutrals all coming together as breezy casual wear. Top it off with a lei to look local.
However, given any amount of time on the islands, and you’ll find the Aloha mindset is most noticeable when driving. You’ll probably never hear a car horn during your time here, unless it’s used as an excited hello. Instead of road rage, the custom is thoughtful courtesy; it’s not uncommon for a driver to wave you to go ahead of them at a crossroads or traffic jam. If a driver yields right of way to you, be sure to return a smile and a wave!
Thanks to a unique melting pot of immigrant cultures and customs supplementing the Native Hawaiian’s culture, the dishes and delicacies of the islands bring new meaning to the term “mouth-watering.” While there are too many delicious options to list them all, here are a few classic staples of Hawaiian cuisine you can’t miss.
Hawaiian Shaved Ice — To the untrained eye, this might bear resemblance to a snow cone, but your taste buds will quickly correct you. Hawaiian Shaved Ice originated as a tasty treat for the machete-wielding Japanese laborers of produce fields, and today carries a level of magic a regular ice cream stand just can’t reach. Maybe it’s the extra-finely chopped ice, or the uniquely flavored syrups, or the host of fresh fruit that often accompanies it?
Poke — Having recently caught traction on the mainland, Poke has been a way of life on Hawaii for longer than many realize. Commonly compared to ceviche or deconstructed sushi, the flavor profiles are far more intricate than either. Poke benefits from the rich combination of various cultures that came to inhabit the islands, blending an eclectic mix of ingredients like onions, Hawaiian sea salt, shoyu, kukui nut, tofu, ginger, garlic and raw fish (traditionally either ahi or octopus) to create a refreshing, yet savory, salad of sort.
Spam Musubi — First introduced to Hawaii by America GI’s, spam is a loved and treasured delicacy. This, mixed with the influences of Japanese cuisine, gave way to Spam musubi. Pan-seared, placed over sushi rice and then wrapped in nori, it’s spam as you’ve never imagined it — and makes for a delicious snack or side dish.
Malasada — Imagine a doughnut, but without the hole in the middle, and better. Malasadas were originally brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrant workers, and to date are fluffy, custardy, deep-fried spheres of delicious dough. Commonly filled with flavored cream and blanketed in granulated sugar, your best bet is to get them hot from a bakery!
Perhaps nothing is more iconic of both Hawaiian cuisine and culture than the fabled luau. A cultural tradition celebrating special occasions ranging from a baby’s first birthday to honoring important people to commemorating great events, luaus have always been a timeless party for the ages.
This isn’t just a celebration though, it’s a feast. Luaus bring to the table a collection of dishes you just can’t enjoy anywhere else, thanks in part to the unique ambiance.
Poi — pounded taro plant root; consider it a starch that you can enjoy with everything.
Pipikaula — teriyaki-flavored nuggets of beef jerky, sometimes still on the bone, and always surprisingly juicy.
Chicken Long Rice — Slivered chicken in chicken broth with vermicelli rice noodles. Of course, this is just the base of the dish; expect your chef to bring their own unique approach to it.
Lomi Lomi Salmon — a chilled dish of diced salmon, tomatoes, green and regular onions.
Kalua Pig — savory pork prepared in an imu (underground oven) and shredded.
Laulau — various meat wrapped in taro leaves and steamed in an imu.
Haupia — coconut pudding! Not too sweet, it’s as delicious as it sounds.
Additionally, you can expect most of the island favorite dishes like Poke and Malasadas to make an appearance on the luau spread. With all of these scrumptious dishes flawlessly coupled with the wonderful company and ambiance of a fun-filled luau, Hawaiian cuisine and culture aren’t things you can simply try in a moment; they have to be lived!